Friday, November 25, 2011

Clyde’s Movie Palace: Holiday Inn (1942)



starring
Bing Crosby
Fred Astaire
Marjorie Reynolds
Virginia Dale
Walter Abel
Louise Beavers

Holiday Inn is one of those films that most people drag out of the DVD closet to watch sometime between Thanksgiving Day and December 25th. It's not really a Christmas film in the strictest sense of the word, but it is a film that celebrates many of the Holidays throughout the year which makes it just as relevant on July 4th as it does on December 24th

I’m sure that some of you have stayed at a Holiday Inn at one time or another, although I’m more of a Motel 6 type of guy myself. You know, leaving the light on for you and all that crap.  Not to mention the important fact that it’s a lot cheaper to stay there most of the time.  The last Holiday Inn I stayed at was in South Carolina over 13 years ago and it was $70 for just one night.  And that’s in 1990’s dollars.

Legend has it that the Holiday Inns we all know and love and make love in today were actually named after the Inn in this movie. Other than the name though, the movie Inn has little in common with the real life Inns of today and not much in common with no room at the inn in Bethlehem either which is another reason why this isn't strictly a Christmas film. Although if Mary and Joseph had dropped in on Jim Hardy in this one, they probably would have had a pretty good time and stuck around a while longer even after the three wise men finally showed up.  And if they offered day care and babysitter services for the kiddies while Mary and Joseph partied all night, they’d have been all set.  Then again, with no real last names, they may have had a huge problem at the check-in counter.  Unless they had licenses for donkey driving in those days.  That might work.  

The real life Holiday Inns are open 365 days a year twenty four hours a day seven days a week holidays included. In the real world, any hotel chain intent on being opened for only one week around the Holidays would undoubtedly make its way quickly into bankruptcy court. It doesn’t matter though, because the 1942 Holiday Inn which was once in glorious black and white and is now brought to you in color courtesy of the fine folks at Legend Films who first did some restoration, then took their pack of electronic crayons to it, is far more of an entertaining place to visit than the cookie cutter Holiday Inn motels in the real world. No offense intended, but you’re not going to see Bing Crosby crooning or Fred Astaire tripping the light fantastic in the lobby of a Holiday Inn Express. Not even if they were still alive which of course they aren't. They'd be way too old for that kind of foolishness.

Although it is never clear how singer Hardy (Bing Crosby), dancer Ted Hanover (Fred Astaire) and singing and dancing threat Lila Dixon (Virginia Dale) began working together, it doesn’t matter because when the film opens it’s quite obvious that this trio is soon to become a dancing duet leaving someone on the outside looking in or at the very least, home alone in the meadow. It seems that Lila and Jim are engaged to be married and Jim is ready to retire their act to a Connecticut farm. Unbeknownst to Jim, Lila is also in love with Ted or as Lila puts it, “I love Ted, I love Jim, I love everybody” which means you have to just love the air headed Lila.  Lila has also decided that plucking chickens, pitching hay, and flannel nightgowns just isn’t her idea of a swinging time.  Well, I can’t fault her there.

Of course Jim finds out about Lila and Ted, very sarcastically wishes the new dancing team luck, but heads off to Connecticut for the easy life away from the hectic world of show biz. Of course it turns out that the easy life isn’t so easy after all. Crooning a tune is much easier than pitching a fork into hay or grabbing a cow by the udders in below freezing temperatures. Worn out and exhausted, he retires from farming for a brief stay at a sanitarium where he comes up with a wonderfully brilliant idea, only possible in the imaginations of Hollywood screenwriters

Jim decides to turn the farm into an Inn and have it only open for the Holidays of which there are roughly fifteen of them. Being short on cash and talent, Jim returns to New York to visit his old dancing buddies Ted and Lila and their manager Danny Reed (Walter Abel).

At about the same time Lila and Ted's manager Danny stops into a flower shop to have some roses sent to Lila (she expects presents for every occasion including Father's Day) in Ted’s name where he is waited on by actress and singer wannabe Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds). Danny gives her free tickets to Lila and Ted’s act and also sends her out to Connecticut to audition for the Holiday Inn.

It is at the nightclub that Linda meets Jim for the first time, not knowing he is also the guy she will be auditioning for the next day. She proclaims herself to be old friends of Ted and Lila’s and Jim proclaims himself to be a big time entrepreneur.

When Linda does go to the Inn and she and Jim discover who each other really are, and since this is an old Hollywood type romance we can already sense that love is just around the corner. It is also at this time that we are introduced to one of the greatest song classics of all time (not to mention one of the biggest selling), White Christmas, sung by Crosby and Reynolds.

As it is in most old Hollywood type romantic musicals, the path to true love is often fraught with peril. In this case the monkey wrench comes in the form of Ted Hanover who shows up unexpectedly on New Years Eve after Lila has left him for another guy or more appropriately, another guy’s millions. Upon arriving at the inn, Ted dances with Linda in a drunken stupor even though he can barely stand up.


Unfortunately Ted was also too drunk to remember what his dance partner looked like, so Jim does his best to hide Linda from Ted so that he never finds out who she is. And so it goes.

Okay, I know it’s all very predictable, but it’s also a heaping mound of fun thanks to a great cast at the top of their game, some great Irving Berlin musical numbers and a couple of truly exceptionally memorable dance sequences by Astaire. Astaire's drunken New Year's dance (He actually did the New Years Eve dance while intoxicated) and Firecracker Dance are by themselves worth the price of a DVD.

And most of all there’s that song Crosby happens to sing for the first time called White Christmas, which Berlin wrote for this film. It also won an academy award for Best Song, has probably sold a few gazillion copies and has been performed a few gazillion times in the past 64 years by practically everybody.  The song was so good in fact that it inspired a film as well,  also with Crosby (exit Fred Astaire, enter Danny Kaye). 

Marjorie Reynold’s glowing contribution to this film is often overlooked in between Astaire’s dancing and Crosby’s croon-de-tune. But her presence is every bit as important.  Whether you are watching in black and white or in color, she lights up the screen and mesmerizes you.



And the film is incredibly funny for having such a flimsy plot. Watching Walter Abel as the forever worrying wart and harried manager will keep you in stitches, especially when he is trying to figure out which girl is Linda Mason by sneaking up behind them and measuring their waists while Astaire is trying to see what dancing with them would be like. And then there’s a brief but hilarious bit where Astaire and Crosby are being bombarded in a dressing room with some runaway peach preserves missiles.

But despite all of that praise there are a few moments in the film that are very problematic. First and foremost is the performance of the Lincoln's Birthday number which is done in blackface in order to hide Linda’s identity. In 2008, it’s excruciating to sit through and you’ll find yourself squirming to get through it. In fact, the sequence has been excised completely in some television showings. There is also the Washington's Birthday number, which is way too silly and goes on far too long. But the rest of the musical moments in this film more than make up for that.  And yes, I know the scene is a product of it’s time, and despite what was acceptable then does not make it any more palatable now.  If you’re to enjoy the rest of the movie, you’ll just have to get through it.

When I watch the film now, I’m a little bit put out by the way Mamie’s maid is treated at time, although it’s obvious she may be the smartest person in this film. It really bugs me that her kids are relegated to having to eat in the kitchen, even though she seems to be somewhat of a partner in the Inn although the extent to which she is involved is never clear. That’s not meant to be a knock on Louise Beavers though, because she obviously had to play the part as written. This also brings up the question, if she’s a partner, why does she still have to perform maid duties for Jim? You can only look at these moments in a kind of historical perspective of the time and see how far we have progressed because there’s not much you can do beyond that.

All in all though, you won’t be disappointed with putting this film on your Holiday watch list be it New Years, Christmas, or even Valentine's Day . It’s more entertaining by a country mile than the hokey spinoff film, White Christmas. Think of Holiday Inn is an all occasion greeting card as I do. You certainly can't go wrong no matter what the occasion and if you can't, I have no choice but to give Holiday Inn my sterling grade of a B+.

As you can tell from the photo stills, they were taken from the colorized film which was recently released as a special edition DVD. A lot is often written about colorization, and most of that is negative written by total purists. I won't get in a debate about that but I did enjoy watching this film in it's re-mastered color print especially after having already seen the original black and white version countless times.

In this case I think it actually enhances the film to a great degree, making it seem more alive and lively. At any rate, the special edition DVD also includes a CD of the film's soundtrack and the black & white version of the film if that is your preference and is well worth the pittance that it costs. Also, don’t judge the process by the you tube clips as they degrade the quality somewhat of what is actually on the DVD. The stills are a better indicator of the quality.  

Like all movies I write about, whether they be good bad or indifferent, Holiday Inn is available from Amazon so how about stuffing one in your wallet and a few nickels in my pocket and we’ll both have a Merry Christmas.  Hey, you can’t blame a guy for trying can you?  Ho, Ho, HO!

Another review of Holiday Inn, which for the most part mirrors my own opinion.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Clyde’s Movie Palace: Titanic (1997)

 
Directed by James Cameron
Leonardo DiCaprio
Kate Winslet
Billy Zane
Kathy Bates
Frances Fisher
Gloria Stuart
Bill Paxton
Bernard Hill
David Warner
Victor Garber
Jonathan Hyde
Suzy Amis
Lewis Abernathy
Nicholas Cascone


(Clyde’s Note:  This is a slightly edited and updated review of the original that I posted on my former movie blog)

On April 10, 1912, the RMS Titanic set sail from Southampton on her maiden voyage to New York. At that time, she was the largest and most luxurious ship ever built. At 11:40 PM on April 14, 1912, she struck an iceberg about 400 miles off Newfoundland, Canada. Although the crew had been warned about icebergs several times that evening by other ships navigating through that region, she was traveling at near top speed of about 20.5 knots when one grazed her side.

Less than three hours later, the
Titanic plunged to the bottom of the sea, taking more than 1500 people with her. Only a fraction of her passengers were saved.

 
From the time Titanic was first conceived by James Cameron it has had an up and down history. While Cameron was filming, rumors began to surface that this was going to be the biggest box office bomb of all time, ranking right up there with and possibly surpassing such notables as Waterworld, Heaven's Gate, and Cutthroat Island. The fact that Titanic was not ready for release by the summer of 1997 and had to be delayed till December did not help to quiet the bad publicity. Finally, in order to finish the film and to enable him to realize his vision, James Cameron was willing to give up his financial stake in the movie. It seemed everyone was waiting to pounce, critics and audiences alike.


Its first sneak preview showing was in Japan and from that moment on things slowly began to change as the critics in Japan raved. When it finally opened in the States, critics and audiences alike realized that the film was not Cameron's Boondoggle but epic spectacular motion picture making on a grand scale. As word of mouth spread and people of all ages went to the theaters to view the film it stayed on top of the box office for an astounding fifteen consecutive weeks. After the struggles he went through to make this film and the criticism he endured about the budget can anyone really blame James Cameron for becoming just a little bit cocky at the Academy Awards?

 
Yet as popular as the film was, it then began to suffer from the kind of backlash reserved for those things that people regard as becoming too successful. They just get tired of hearing about it or they came to view Cameron as becoming too big for his britches. It's comparable to the repercussions facing an artist that has an enormous top 40 hit that is heard over and over again until people get tired of hearing it and suddenly proclaim their total hatred of it.

Celine Dion's song from the film is a perfect example. There was a time when many couldn't see the video often enough or tire of his heavy rotation on every top forty station in the county. Dare to mention My Heart Will Go On now and you'll get a lot of noses being turned up in the air.


Another backlash Titanic has faced is from those who now attribute its success to the phenomenon known at that time as Leomania. Titanic haters one and all will now tell you that its success was due solely to the multiple viewings (10 – 1,000,000 depending on whatever number they want to throw at you) by teenage girls (13 – 15 or whatever age they decide to use). Having tired of seeing these astronomical numbers lobbied about I took it upon me to research the subject some time ago. What I found was that despite the publicity surrounding Leonardo DiCaprio, only 35 percent of Titanic's gross can be attributed to ALL girls from age 12 – 22. Not a very large percentage when one considers the fact that the audience of a film like Freaky Friday consisted of 70  percent teenage girls. 

And since then not even the millions of female
Twilight Fans of all ages have been able to push any of those films into the rarified air inhabited now by both Titanic, and the only film to surpass it, Avatar.  So how could they possibly have achieved it with Titanic for a film with less showing and cheaper admissions?  And just as Titanic’s success had haters one and all coming out of the woodwork like a mass of cockroaches, Avatar has fallen to the same weak criticisms that befell Titanic.  Sometimes, success breeds contempt.

The main reasons  Titanic  grossed as much as it did had a whole lot more to do with the fact that so many people who seldom go to a movie theater left the comfort of their Lazy Boy Recliner to head down to the local Cineplex then the fact that it may have been an outlet for a few fanatical teenagers on the weekend.

Yes, the teenagers got a lot of publicity as some entertainment shows tried to latch onto a good side show, but there aren't that many teenage females with money enough to account for Titanic's 600 million U.S. gross and ability to stay at the top of the box office for fifteen
consecutive weeks. I won't even mention the fact that the film has grossed over a billion dollars in video sales and rentals as well. I guess every teenage girl in the world bought a copy.

Still, the teenage girl myth continues to this day, even though simple mathematics should have put that story to rest years ago. And worst yet, a great many males still see this film as some kind of affront to their masculinity and will still do everything in their power to downgrade it, hate it, piss on it, or whatever they can to keep it from being recognized for it's cinematic achievements. It's as if they somehow they still find it difficult to deal with the fact t
hat a film they consider to be nothing more than an overblown $200 million dollar chick flick and won so many awards could have been produced by the same guy who brought them the Terminator movies. It’s as if they have been betrayed by one of their own kind.  But if you watch Titanic and all you see is a chick flick, brother you need glasses.

Make no mistake about it. Titanic, love it or hate it, is movie-making on a grand scale. From the first frame to the last, I was totally captivated, from the present day scenes with Bill Paxton, Suzy Amis, and Gloria Stuart, to the majestic past with Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet and Billy Zane. I never tire of watching Titanic and with each viewing I find some new detail previously missed. As I watched once again before writing this updated review, there were several small details I had never noticed before, and there will probably be something new for me the next time that I watch it.

In the present day Gloria Stuart portrays the elderly Rose Dawson Calvert. As the elderly Rose it was necessary for Stuart to develop certain personality traits of the young Rose who was played by the remarkable Kate Winslet and she does it marvelously. She's just as feisty as a 104 year old as she was when she sailed on the Titanic at fifteen. At one point Cameron does one of his many dissolves where he zooms in on young Rose's eyes which then dissolve into the elder Rose's profile as if to tell us that Rose had indeed become the person she really wanted to be.


Often DiCaprio's performance as Jack Dawson is derided as being too boyish. Maybe that was because he still hadn't quite hit the ripe old age of 22 when the movie was being filmed so I never really understood that criticism. He was supposed to be young, charming, boyish, and especially handsome. He is a vagabond, but Jack is a very contented world traveler also. He sees life not as something to sleep walk through, but something of a challenge. Jack knows his place in life and he makes the best of it. He doesn't look at the aristocrats as something to be envied. He sees them for what they really are-captive prisoners of their own making in which for them today will be the same as yesterday, and tomorrow the same as the day before.  And as history has shown us since, there is no disputing the excellence of DiCaprio’s acting credentials.


Jack was a young spirit, free to do and live as he pleased whenever and wherever it suited him. He was everything the aristocratic Rose yearned to be as she strived to shed the chains of her stilted upbringing and to escape an impending marriage to a man she absolutely loathed.
 

Kate Winslet had a tough balancing act as well in her role as the young Rose DeWitt Bukater. But like DiCaprio she pulls it off to perfection. She had to be loyal to her mother Ruth (Frances Fisher) enough that she is willing to marry Cal Hockley (Billy Bates) while at the same time she must submerge her true wants and desires within herself until she begins contemplating suicide as a means of escape.

But through all of that she still somehow manages to convey her sense of disdain for what her mother wants her to do, and even worse the fact that she will have to spend the rest of her life playing housewife with the despicable Hockley. It's a testament to Winslet's performance that she is able to let us see through the facade that she puts up to placate both her mother and Cal. Nor does it escape the attention of Molly Brown either (
Kathy Bates) who sees an unhappy future for young Rose.


Although her father is deceased we are given many hints that Rose has inherited more of a zest for living from him than any of the iron clad traditions her mother has instilled in her. The transition from that Rose, to the Rose who decides that the price of a lifetime of security at the cost of her soul is way too high, could have been a messy transition which if not done right could have sunk the entire movie (no pun intended). But Winslet manages to pull it off impeccably.


The rest of the supporting cast is equally impressive. Billy Zane as Cal Hockley gives us a villainous snob that we despise but it's the kind of over the top performance that makes hating a pompous ass such as Cal both satisfying and frustrating. We hope and we wait for him to get his comeuppance, but sometimes evil does win out. Or does it?


Frances Fisher is the cold and calculating Ruth DeWitt Bukater whom through much of the film demonstrates no concern for anyone but herself and her own well being. She is a manipulator and an emotionless iceberg whose only goal in life seems to be to live in the finest style possible while looking down on those beneath her station as if they are nothing more than a pile of maggots to be dealt with and dispensed with in the quickest way possible.   Sort of like the way most of today’s Republicans feel about the working class.


Yet later in the film as she is sitting in the lifeboat looking back at the ship and the realization envelops her that she has possibly lost her daughter for eternity, we see a woman who recognizes too late the high price she has paid for being such a cold self-centered bitch.


 
Kathy Bates plays Molly Brown just as one would expect Molly Brown to have been. Her scenes are few but they are certainly memorable and her gut wrenching pleas for the lifeboat to go back to the ship will stay with you for a long long time.


Bernard Hill plays the Captain as a clueless dolt when faced with disaster for the first time in his life. One can argue all day about the interpretation as opposed to what Smith may or may not have been like in real life, but all you really need is to look at the evidence of the aftermath to know that Hill's portrayal and Cameron script may come pretty close to the mark.


Of the crew, it is Victor Garber's performance that I admire the most. He may be one of the elite, but he shows himself to be a man of conscious. He is more concerned with the well being of the passengers then for his own safety. We see in his eyes that he knows most of them will die, and we sense the burden of responsibility that he has accepted.

James Horner's beautiful score captures every mood of the film to perfection and despite much of the ridicule it now receives, My Heart Will Go On which is only sang over the end credits, is the perfect finishing touch for Titanic. From the quiet moments of the early part of the film, to the musical celebration of the party in third class, to the urgency of Titanic trying to steer around the iceberg, Horner hits every note flawlessly and he justifiably won the Academy Award for best score.



My Heart Will Go On

Despite the beating he took in the press about his $200 million dollar budget (dwarfed by many film since including Cameron’s Avatar which hit $300 million), Cameron made excellent use of every cent. Every dollar spent shows up on the screen and the detail is amazing. From the opening haunting scenes of Titanic rusting in it's underwater grave to the first scene of Rose looking up to view the Titanic as she steps out on to the dock, Cameron imposes on us the belief that his ship is truly the Titanic.

When Titanic sets sail across the North Atlantic with Jack stretching his arms outward to fly like the wind and as Dolphins are seen racing out ahead of it, it is simply breathtaking. As Titanic heads out to open sea, Cameron lets his camera glide over the ship so that for the first time we get a true sense of how mammoth a vessel it really was, making us feel that we are a passenger aboard the Titanic instead of just distant observers.




 
Add to all of this Cameron's meticulous attention to detail inside the ship where the difference between the opulent luxury of first class and the stark quarters of steerage becomes even more striking.

Cameron also uses frequent dissolves in Titanic, more than in any film in my memory. When the scenes where the rusted hull and decks of the Titanic dissolve into the beauty of the ship on its maiden voyage or even the reverse effect is comparable to watching a cinematography ballet. Each cut between Titanic past and Titanic present day is timed perfectly and aided in no small part by the fine narration of Gloria Stuart. And it's not just the ship that Cameron uses his dissolves for.



As we watch Jack paint the nude Rose, he zooms in on her eyes and we see the sparkle in them along with the love and passion she has for the young man who is drawing her. When the frame dissolves into the elderly Rose, the face is wrinkled but we see the same spark in her eyes that she had so many years ago, letting us know that Jack still held a special place in her heart.


From the moment the lookouts first spot impending doom in the form of an iceberg to the flooding of the ship to the breaking in half of Titanic to the actual sinking, Cameron keeps us in the thick of what is happening for every frame never once succumbing to the temptation to leave his story and go off on a tangent of one subplot after another.


We had seen Titanic movies before, and there is always a certain amount of tenseness when that moment comes. But it was never done quite like this as we see the total panic that ensues all the way down into the engine room as the engineers struggle to reverse the engines and to turn the ship. And as the ship approaches the iceberg, we not only see the perspiration dripping down Lightoller, we can almost feel the shudder of the ship beneath us.

The use of a fictional romance set against the backdrop of a historical event has been with us for a long time. Gone with the Wind's basic story is one of a romance that takes place surrounded by the civil war and its aftermath. In A Farewell to Arms a love affair between an American ambulance driver and English nurse is set against the backdrop of World War I. The year before the release of Titanic, The English Patient story was told against the backdrop of World War II. Some may quibble that those films were based on works of literature whereas Titanic was not, but that’s a silly straw man argument. Though many find Cameron's use of a love story between the rich aristocratic Rose and the poor but talented Jack as contrived and unbelievable, it is in fact the perfect plot device for this film and for what Cameron needed to accomplish. And it has never been done better.

In 1953 Titanic received the Hollywood treatment in a film directed by Jean Negulesco. That film used the fictional story of the Sturges family to tell its story and did in fact include a sub plot of the daughter of the Sturges’s of high society becoming involved with a middle class passenger. The story took place almost entirely in opulent first class section of the ship rarely venturing to the lower decks briefly so that we witness the tragedy awaiting those in the steerage compartments.

In the 1958 film
A Night to Remember directed by Roy Ward Baker and based on the great book of the same name by Walter Lord, we do indeed see all aspects of the ship including all passengers, the crew, and all the significant details of the sinking that were known at the time the film was made. Though the film is excellent in its retelling of the events by the mere fact that it offers so many details, we are never drawn into it in a purely emotional way and viewing A Night to Remember is tantamount to watching a fine documentary film - excellent in details but still a bit soulless.

By using his much derided rich girl/poor boy fantasy Cameron is able to draw us not only into the lives of Jack and Rose, but enables us for the first time to become part of the lives of all the passengers. When Jack attends a first class dinner with Rose and her other companions from high society we're treated to all the snobbish and stuffy details that it entails.

When the dinner is over, the men go to the smoking room for cigars, brandy and conversations of high finance and politics while the women are left behind to gossip among themselves. It doesn't take us long to discern the fact that  most of them are of the same ilk as Cal and they do indeed view themselves as the better class with everybody else put on this earth to serve their needs as they see fit and to clean up after them.

Shortly after the dinner, Rose joins Jack in the lower decks for a party among the steerage passengers where there is dancing, music, boisterousness, and uninhibited drinking by both men and women. There is no doubt that Cameron sees these passengers as being free and uninhibited much as many of us would prefer to be while those in first class are bound by a strict and rigid code of conduct which governs every moment of their existence. It is the people in steerage that we truly identify with and because Cameron allows us to witness and become a part of their lives, the tragic fate that awaits many of them is ten times more devastating than it would be had we not been allowed to do so. When Jack tells little Cora that she is still his best girl, little do we realize how much we will be haunted by what happens not only to her, but the children of other passengers as well.

At the beginning of the film we are as Brock Lovett (Bill Paxton) is. I would go so far as to say that Lovett does indeed represent those of us seeing the film for the first time or even having just read Titanic articles and books.

 
 
Just as he and his crew view the shipwreck of the Titanic as a curiosity piece to be used only for the treasures they can salvage from within and just as we know of all the events surrounding the history of Titanic, the long ago events have scant emotional impact. As elderly Rose Calvert weaves the tale of her days on the ship leading up to the sinking, Brock learns just as we do that the story of the Titanic is much more than just the tale of a luxury liner that sank on its maiden voyage. It is the story of man at his best and at his worst. It is the story of the rich and the poor. It is the story of man's arrogance and his belief in his own infallibility. It is the story of love found, and love lost. It is the story of courage and of cowardice. It is the story of life, and of death.

 
How can we forget the mother trying to explain to her children why they have to wait to escape the ship and then later telling them a story for comfort as the ocean floods the ship? How can we forget the look exchanged between Rose and the Chamber Maid just before she falls to her doom? How can we forget our horror as a child apparently rescued by Jack and Rose are taken from their grasp only to meet certain death in a moment of panic by his father? How can we forget our frustration as the stewards refuse to unlock the gates to allow the third class and steerage passengers to escape? How can we forget the look on the faces of the people in the lifeboats who have left their loved ones behind, yet do nothing to try and save any survivors? How can we forget when a lifeboat does return and overturns the now frozen body of a mother holding her infant child? There are thousands of moments like this in Titanic and like I said before, if your only criticism is it's just a silly chick flick, then you have never truly watched the film in the way that it should be watched and shame on you and your silly critique.



 
If you have seen Titanic in its theatrical release, it is obviously the best way to have viewed the film. If you have only seen the film in its horrid pan and scan version on video tape or the more horrid commercial presentation on network television, than you still haven't viewed the film as it should be seen. The original DVD release was bare but Titanic was re-released in October of 2005 in a three disc special edition that includes commentary, tons of deleted scenes, an alternate ending and many other extras. And better yet, by spreading the film over two discs and increasing the bit rate, the picture quality is pristine and I guarantee you that the whole experience comes alive in a whole new way.

And there is a treasure trove of special features on the set including the not so alternate ending. I say that because it is all how you look at it. The ending in the movie is in itself an alternate ending. The original ending that was filmed was the first scene yanked  because it didn't work. On the DVD, Cameron explained the reasoning quite well and he’ll get no argument from me or anybody else who has seen it.  The downside: this edition is now out of print so you’ll either be looking for a used bargain or an expensive new one.  (Currently over $80 dollars for a new copy, much less for a used copy depending on condition.  Be sure to check outside seller ratings.)

The three disc special edition was unfortunately substituted with a two disc 10th anniversary edition. Go figure.   And it too has gone out of print.  Prices for new start at about $42 on Amazon.  The original bare bones edition on DVD can be had for just over $20 bucks as I write this, but again check outside seller ratings. 

All that being said with the new 3D remastered and Imax 3D versions being released next April, you can probably look for a boxed set 100th anniversary of the sinking blu-ray edition sometime next year.  The new remastered clips in the trailer looks simply stunning.  And yes, the Titanic Movie web site is up and running once again for that event.  I myself am counting the days.  Scoff at the 3D if you must, but this is James Cameron we’re talking about here and he hasn’t failed me yet.   Here is the new trailer, beneath that is the original trailer.

Remastered and being released in Real 3D and Imax3D, the Titanic trailer looks stunning.

The original trailer for the 1997 release
 
There is no doubt that Titanic has become a victim of its own success. You are allowed to become successful, but only up to a point. I am not naïve enough to think that this review will change the mind of many who often use this film as their favorite whipping boy. Many of those who criticized this film were beating up on Avatar before it hit the first cinema.

I do hope that it will encourage a few of the more thoughtful viewers to watch the film again and perhaps see it in a new and different light. As far as I'm concerned, Titanic was worthy of every bit of the praise it received just over ten years ago and does not deserve much of the ridicule and scorn many now hold for it. And you know if I find a film worthy of that much praise I have no choice but to give it my grade which for Titanic is a a very big A+ 

Other James Cameron Films on Blu-ray and DVD:

    

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Road Trip: West Side Story (1961)



West Side Story

Directed
by
Jerome Robbins & Robert Wise
Music
by
Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics
by
Stephen Sondheim
Choreography
by
Jerome Robbins

Viewed at
The Galaxy Theater
Tulare, California
November 9, 2011

I had not been able to take a Movie Road Trip since  way back in late September when I saw the crapfest known as the remake of Straw Dogs.  By the end of summer, the studio left overs usually don’t have much appeal which may have had something to do with my current  drought.  It didn’t seem worth the effort to go.   But this week, (November 9) Honorable Number 3 Son and I decided yesterday was as good a time as any to take a little trip through the space/time continuum.  We polished up our the stainless steel DeLorean and sped out to I-99.  Once on the freeway, we set the flux capacitor for late 1961,  revved the engine up, and after hitting 88 mph found ourselves instantly transported back in time where we were able to attend the New York Road Show Engagement of what I consider to be the greatest musical of all time.  That would be West Side Story.

Wouldn’t it be fun if one could really jettison themselves backward and forwards in time?  Of course, I imagine if you had a time machine, taking in a movie might be one of the last things you would want to do as you hurdled yourself from one century to the next.  But in a way, films have always been our ticket to the past.   With film revivals and one night digital showings of classic films you can often enjoy the experience of the theatrical presentation once again.  And no matter how fancy your home theater equipment may bet, nothing surpasses that .  

I’ve blown several opportunities to see some of these one time events over the years.  Generally, time, money, and distance were not on my side.  Time, because work kind of gets in the way.  Money, because I’m as broke as everybody else in this country these days.  Distance, because the nearest movie theater is thirty miles away.  I would love to go to some of these film festivals in L.A., but most require  more than a one day stay and others like the TCM Film Festival require a mortgage on your house as a down payment.

I wanted to see The Sound of Music on the big screen last year, but it just wasn’t feasible.  When they had a Back to the Future revival, there were no local theaters participating so I missed out on that as well.

Many full moons ago when I was still living in Ohio, they had a Cinerama revival of How the West Was Won at The Neon Movies in Dayton, Ohio.  I had even bought my reserve seat ticket in advance.  Obviously the problem there wasn’t time, money or distance.  It was just a crazy Looney Tunes ex-wife that did me in. It's a long story and you don’t really need to know.

So a few weeks back when I was checking out the movie scheduling on the Turner Classic Movies web site, there was an ad for a one time anniversary event showing of West Side Story.  Not so coincidentally, the blu-ray remastered special edition was being released a week later.

I have seen this film many times over the years.  I was probably around ten or eleven at the most the first time, and it was in a neighborhood theater in Erlanger, Kentucky long after it’s Road Show Engagement had run its course.  I think we called the theater the “Gayety” but research tells me that by the time we saw West Side Story, that theater had long ago changed it’s name to the Village Cinema in either 1950 or 1960 depending on which of my sources is screwed up the most.  I remember seeing Li'l Abner there as well.  What a dreary experience that was!
 
It was the only time I had seen it in a theater, and I liked it well enough, but better than that,  it certainly satisfied my curiosity as to what all those goofy songs my three older sisters waltzed around the house singing incessantly were about. They had seen the film months earlier in a first run engagement, and saw it again when I did at the Gayety.  Their idea of course. 

When my parents bought them the soundtrack the girls were ecstatic.  And they must have played that LP until they finally wore it  out and me right along with it to the point where I felt like throwing up every time my siblings would warble along with “I Feel Pretty.”  You know kid brothers.  At that age I thought they were overreaching a bit with that particular song. 

It may have been the first stereo soundtrack LP we ever owned.  We had a copy of Flower Drum Song, but I don’t think it was the original cast.   Having found that album through Google did nothing to clear up that mystery.  Still, you probably thought I made up that stuff about the vinyl being red, didn’t you?  Hell, I played that record just because I liked the color better than your basic black.


It was later showings on television that enabled me to really appreciate the film, even panned and scanned and loaded with commercials.  I have purchased the soundtrack myself on various occasions, bought the movie on VHS, and bought the special edition DVD when it was released.  And now, I have the anniversary blu-ray box which was on order as I began writing this but arrived before I finished.  That tells you how long it takes me to write some of these things.

There were to be no showings at any Bakersfield theaters (as usual).  If there’s a bright center of the country when it comes to culture and film, Bakersfield is the city that it’s farthest from.  As a matter of fact, it is my opinion that Bakersfield is the city that’s farthest from anything much worth while.   And yes, towns like Wasco are a bigger drag to live in, but it has the excuse of it’s puny size. 

The nearest theater hosting this event was the Galaxy Theater  in Tulare, some 50 miles from where I live (about 70 from Bakersfield).  I had been to this theater before, several times in fact, when it had first opened.  But not recently and not in the past couple of years.  I know it was a nice place back then, but like I said, it was new.  However, the fact that it hosted events such as this one was a good sign. 

I asked The Girlfriend if she wanted to go.  You already know the answer to that.  So I asked Honorable Son Number 3 if he wanted to give it a try.  To my surprise he said yes.  So I purchased our tickets in advance on the internet.  Better to be safe than sorry.

In the weeks leading up to the event I did my best to get The Girlfriend to change her mind.  But it was no go.  If it had been The Notebook or Twilight or some other crap like that she’d had been right there.  But she did take the day off so that we could use her vehicle which is much better than my hunk of Buick Regal junk.  And in the end, she did go with us, but went to a different movie.  She opted for a real cinematic achievement and work of art known as The Tower Heist.

The Galaxy is part of the Preferred Outlets of Tulare.  It’s not particularly easy to navigate to.  We had the GPS, but even the little woman living in that little box  got confused and almost steered us in the wrong direction.  We had started our trip by eating out at The Black Bear in Tulare, but that’s fodder for another article.  If I ever get to it.  Any more weeks like this one and I won’t.

The theater was pretty much as I remembered, although it seemed a lot larger than before.  We were there early so we killed some time driving around the outlet mall and stopped at Baskin-Robbins for some overpriced ice cream which we were also overcharged for, adding insult to injury.  And it wasn’t that good.  But I’ll leave that for part of The Black Bear article when and if I ever get to it.  And honestly, I really have to get a phone with a better camera in it for things like this.  These photos are crap.
 

We entered the theater, gave the guy our paper to scan that he didn’t scan but he simply tore a notch in.  The film would be shown on Screen 8 near the back of the theater.  I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking another sardine can.  But you would be wrong.

We went into the Auditorium 8, and it was dark.  It was dark because they were still showing Johnny Depp’s newest bomb, The Rum Diary.  So we left and waited out in the hall way.  

Eventually other patrons who were there to see West Side Story joined us.  One of the workers told us it would be about another fifteen minutes or so.  Finally Mr. Depp  had wrapped  and the one guy, an old bearded gentleman  who had been sitting in there watching it left.  Still, they roped off the entrance and then went into clean and set up for West Side Story.  My question: How long could it possibly take to clean up after one person?  I mean, even if he dropped a whole bucket of popcorn on the floor, it wouldn’t take that long to sweep up.  But finally  Honorable Number 3 son and I were ushered in along with another 20 or so people who were standing in line.

When I said the auditorium wasn’t a sardine can I did not mean it wasn’t small.  It was in the sense that the capacity couldn’t have been much over a hundred.  But there is a right way to do small and a wrong way.  If you read my previous articles regarding the Reading Valley Plaza Cinema, than you would know those cigar boxes at that location are wrong in every way imaginable.  This auditorium was designed properly.  It was much wider than longer thus spreading the seats over a larger area and also enabling a much larger screen while still not using up huge amounts of square footage.  In fact, the screen was probably as large as you would find in some of the main auditoriums I’ve been in.    It gave the appearance of being large without actually being that way.  Wish I could have taken a picture, but because of us being ushered in late, it wasn’t possible.

By the time the show started, I would estimate there were about 40 people in the auditorium give or take a few.  Maybe more.  Honorable son and I were in the first row of stadium seating and our row was full.  So it could have been as many as 60.

The evening  began with a segment taped at the Turner Classic Movies 2011 Film Festival.  Robert Osborne was on hand along with George Chakiris , Marni Nixon, and Executive Producer Walter Mirisch.  Chakiris played the part of Bernardo, Nixon did Natalie Wood’s vocals, and some of Rita Moreno’s. 

Although this segment was interesting, most of the information was nothing new to those who already own the original DVD Special Edition.  I did find that George Chakiris's recollections on the events surrounding the making of the film were quite a bit different from those of Nixon and Mirisch.  As Mirisch tried to pass off the fact that firing Director and Choreographer Jerome Robbins was just one of those things that had to be done for the financial sake of the film, Chakiris didn’t seem to see it that way.  Although he didn’t say so exactly, I’m sure he and many of the cast agree that without Robbins, there was no way that West Side Story would have been the great film that it is. 

And they are right of course.  I also didn’t much care for the attitudes of Nixon or Mirisch when discussing, almost jokingly, the fact that Natalie Wood's musical vocals were going to be dubbed after she had already performed the numbers on the film.  Why is Natalie always the one they crap on, when it turns out just about all the musical vocals were dubbed in except a couple of Rita Moreno?  And her vocals weren’t entirely pure either.

The preliminaries lasted about twenty minutes before the “film” began.  I say film but these things are actually digitally downloaded to the theater and then projected on to the screen in High Definition.   From the many internet articles I read, the presentation that you get in any particular theater is a crap shoot, often dependent on that particular chain’s quality control.

I never know who’s visiting this blog, whether they are young or old, whether they know little about classic films or nothing at all.  Sometimes it seems a bit silly to offer up a synopsis of a classic films such as this, until I’m reminded that a large portion of today’s audience may be totally clueless when it comes to any film made before the year 2005. 

If you know the story of Romeo and Juliet, than you’ll have a pretty good idea of the story behind West Side Story.

 

On the West Side of New York, the streets or turf as they are referred to, are controlled by gangs.  How much turf each gang controls is dependent on one thing:  whether or not they are tough enough to defend their territory against any challenges that come along  One particular section of Manhattan is controlled by the Jets, formerly led by Tony (Richard Beymer) but now led by his best friend Riff (Russ Tamblyn).  Tony has dropped out of the Jets and is attempting to go straight.  He is now working at Doc’s Candy Store, a move which does not sit well with most of The Jets.  But as Riff explains it, it’s a temporary condition.  “Maybe Tony was corrupted by the youth board,’ explains one Jet.

The Jets are now facing another serious threat to their turf.  A Puerto Rican gang known as The Sharks, led by Bernardo (George Chakiris) is invading the Jet’s territory.  And as Riff sees it, the only way to get rid of them is to have one big rumble to decide who will rule the neighborhood.  He intends to invite Bernardo to a war council to decide on a time, place, and choice of weapons which could be anything from fists , to knives, or zip guns.



Before that can happen Riff must convince Tony to rejoin the Jets.  It’s not an easy task, even if Riff is like a brother to him.  Tony has given up the battle of the streets for good.  He has grown tired of it, and now views gang warfare as a one way dead end alley.  The dead end being prison, or being sliced open.


Tony is looking for something better, something special and although he hasn’t found it yet he knows it’s out there.  Riff convinces Tony to come to the dance that night where Riff will offer up his invitation for a war council.   “Who knows,” he tells Tony, “maybe what you are looking for will be twitching at the dance.”


Maria (Natalie Wood) is also excited about the upcoming dance.  It is the first real dance that her overprotective brother, Bernardo, will allow her to attend in America.  Bernardo’s hope is to pair Maria up with Chino (Jose De Vega), who has become Bernardo’s Protégé and has also been enlisted to be Chino’s protector.  But as Maria tells Bernardo’s girlfriend Anita (Rita Moreno), “When I see Chino, nothing happens.”  When you meet Chino, you’ll pretty much understand Maria’s viewpoint.  He’s pretty much a weenie.


That evening, as the Jets, Sharks, and their girlfriends, vie for supremacy on the dance floor, Tony and Maria see each other for the first time.  It is love at first sight, and they become totally oblivious to those around them as they quietly begin to dance.




“I felt…I knew something never before was going to happen, but this is so much more,” He tells her.  As they kiss for the first time, Bernardo angrily interrupts them and pushes Tony away.

“Couldn’t you see he’s one of them,” Barnardo tells Maria.
"I saw only him,”
she replies. 
“They only want one thing from a Puerto Rican girl,”
 Bernardo replies angrily

After telling Chino and Anita to take Maria home, Bernardo attempts to go after Tony but is blocked by Riff and Ice (Tucker Smith).  Riff and Bernardo agree to a war council at Doc’s Candy Store later that night.  Tony wanders through the streets calling for Maria.  On the rooftops of the apartments, the Sharks lampoon their life in the mainland and life in Puerto Rico, all in the same song.
 


Afterwards, despite Anita’s objections, they leave for their war council with The Jets.

Bernardo:  Meet me on the roof later.
Anita: (mimicking Bernardo)  Meet me on the roof later.
Bernardo:  Well, will you or won’t you?
Anita:  Will you or won’t you?
Bernardo (grabbing Anita and pulling her towards him)  Well, will you?
Anita:  You have your big important war council.  The Council….or me?
Bernardo:  First one, and then the other.
Anita (pulling away): No, I’m an American Girl now.  I don’t wait.
Bernardo:  Back home, women know their place.
Anita:  Back home, little boys don’t have war councils. 
Bernardo:  But they do here.  You want me to be an American don’t you?

Romeo and Juliet finally get together on the balcony  Tony and Maria finally meet up on the fire escape when she hears him calling her from the street.  It is Maria who is more realistic about their situation.

Tony:  I am not one of them, Maria.
Maria:  But you are not one of us and I am not one of you.
But despite Maria’s misgivings, the two of them are in love, and for this one moment, that is all that they see, and all that they feel.


Before he leaves, Maria invites Tony to come to the Bridal Shop that she works in the next day at closing time. 

At Doc’s, The Jet’s wait impatiently for The Sharks to arrive for the war council.  Unfortunately, Officer Krupke gets there first to read them the riot act.  And after he leaves, The Jets lampoon him  with the song Gee, Officer Krupke.
 

Doc arrives to close up the Candy Store.  The Jets tell him why they are there so late and Doc let’s them know how disgusted he is with them.  “I’ll dig you an early grave,” he tells them.

Bernardo and his gang finally show up to set up terms of the rumble with Riff and The Jets.   After agreeing to rumble under the highway the following evening, they are about to choose weapons (rocks, belts, pipes, cans, bricks, bats, clubs chains) but are interrupted by Tony.


Tony:
  Bottles!  Knives!  Guns!  What a coop full of chickens!
Action:  Who are you calling chicken?
Bernardo:  Every dog knows his own.
Tony:  I’m calling you all chicken.  Big, tough, buddy boys, gotta throw bricks.  Afraid to get in close?  Afraid to slug it out?  Afraid to use plain skin? 
Snowboy:  Not even garbage?
Action (to Tony): That ain’t a rumble. 
Riff:  Who says?
Bernardo (to Riff):  You said call weapons
Tony:  A rumble can be clinched by a fair fight.   If you’ve got the guts to risk that.  Best man from each gang to slug it out.
Bernardo:  I’d enjoy to risk that!  Fair Fight!
Pepe:  What?
Action:  No!
Riff:
  The commanders say yes or no.   (to Bernardo) Fair Fight.



With Tony having convinced Riff and Bernardo to tone down their own 1961 version of Fight Club to a mere fistfight between the best fighter of each gang,  everything is  right with the world.  The rumble takes place the following evening between Ice and Bernardo, and ends in a draw.  The two gangs seeing that further conflict is useless, decide to disband and share their turf.  Bernardo sees that Tony and Maria really do love each other, introduces him to their mama and papa, thus enabling the couple to live together in love, ecstasy, and harmony for as long as they both shall live.  And that’s exactly how it happened in Shakespeare Romeo and Juliet as well.  Yeah, it’s just as I thought.  You didn’t ever really read Romeo and Juliet did you?   You just kind of heard about it.

Of course, nothing in that last paragraph happens.  Despite having reduced the rumble to a one on one fist fight things begin to deteriorate.  Bernardo is under the impression that Tony is the one he will be fighting, thus giving himself the opportunity to beat the crap out of him for having dared to smooch his precious sister.  When he is informed that the Jet’s best fighter is not Tony, but Ice, he’s none too happy about it.  But he did shake on it so he’ll do it.

The two gangs have no sooner finalized plans than Lt. Shrank comes strolling in to harass the Puerto Ricans.  Lt. Shrank is not a nice guy. On the other hand, the two warring gangs do find common ground in their hatred and disgust with the guy, and when he pops in, they almost seem agreeable with each other.  

Lt. Shrank
(upon seeing the Jets and the Sharks making nice with each other): 
Y'know, when headquarters hears about this, I may even get a promotion.  Good deal all around, huh Bernardo?  I get a promotion and you Puerto Ricans get what you been itchin’ for:  use of the playground, use of the gym, candy store, the streets.  So what if they do turn this whole city into a stinkin’ pig sty?  (Bernardo lunges at Shrank but is blocked by Riff)  Don’t stop him.  He wants to get home, write a few letters to San Juan, tell ‘em how he’s got it made over here.  I mean clear out you!  Sure it’s a free country and I ain’t go the right.  But I got the badge.  What do you got?  It’s tough all over.  Beat it!

After the Shark’s leave, Shrank does his best to get Riff and the others to tell him where the rumble is going to be held, even promising Riff that he’ll help them get rid of the Puerto Ricans.  But despite doing his best to intimidate them, Shrank gets nowhere.

The next day Tony arrives at the bridal shop to see Maria, but unfortunately Anita has not yet left.  Still, she promises Maria she won’t tell Bernardo.  “How can I see what goes on 12 feet above my head,” she tells them.  After Anita leaves, Maria asks Tony if he is going to the rumble.  When he tells her he is not, she convinces him he must go and stop the fight completely.


“Any fight is not good for us,”
she tells him.  Tony tells her that if it will make her happy he will go and stop the fight.

When Tony arrives at the rumble, he tries to convince Bernardo that there should not be a fight.  Instead of listening, Bernardo taunts Tony calling him a coward and a chicken while shoving him, hoping to goad him into fighting since it is Tony that Bernardo wanted to fight all along.  Riff, who is like Tony’s brother, steps into defend Tony by slugging Bernardo sending him sprawling across the pavement.  When Bernardo recovers, he and Riff both yank out switchblades and the fight is on.



Since West Side Story is not based on A Midsummer Night's Dream, or The Merchant of Venice, you know going in that chances of all of this ending with a smiley face were pretty slim to begin with..  How close does it emulate Romeo and Juliet?  All I’ll tell you is pretty close, but not exactly and if you want to find out, watch the movie.  And why shouldn’t you? 

In my opinion, it is the greatest musical ever filmed,  certainly on my must see list (if I had one), and one of the ones you should see before you die.  Singin' in the Rain?  I love that film as well, but it doesn’t come close to approaching the depth and musical accomplishments of West Side Story.  The Sound of Music?  High on my list for entertainment as well, the blu-ray is phenomenal, but still not in the same league.  What I’m saying is pop the damn pop corn, get the blu-ray or DVD out, sit your ass down in front of the big screen, and crank up that surround sound.  You won’t be sorry.

And what a musical!  Jerome Robbins choreography is simply put, the greatest ever filmed.  Chakiris is right.  Without Robbins dance sequences, West Side Story would be half a movie.  Once you watch the opening sequence, when  the Jets and Sharks try to one up each other in dance on the streets of New York, you’ll want to watch it over and over again.  There had never been anything like it before, and nothing like it since.  Yes, the opening of The Sound of Music is breathtaking, but that is attributed  to the exquisite cinematography of the Swiss Alps.  With West Side Story, you find out everything you need to know in music and dance before nearly one word of dialogue is even spoken.  George Chakiris:


“Working with [Jerome] Robbins was the greatest experience I ever had, because it was Jerry who first showed me how a dancer could express himself in dancing rhythms and how an actor could intensify his dramatic performance with the graceful, expressive body movements of a dancer.”
 
It’s not just the dancing.  Leonard Bernstein's dynamic musical score with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, will stay with you forever.  Whether it’s the comical number “America’ sung and danced to by the Sharks and their girlfriends, the hautingly beautiful “Maria” sung by Tony as he searches for her though the streets of New York, or the edgy intense “Cool” once having watched, you’ll be singing along with them forever.  Then there’s “Quintet” which takes place just before the rumble, and encapsulates all the events of the movie perfectly up to that point.  I offer up that clip as well with the usual disclaimer, YouTube here today, YouTube gone tomorrow, and the caveat as above that the quality is rather piss poor and horridly panned and scanned.  But this may be my favorite musical vocal of the whole film.
 

Much has been written about the casting of West Side Story, and you can find out even more from either the Special Edition DVD (out of print, you will pay a premium) or the new Special Edition Blu-ray box set.  George Chakiris and Rita Moreno won Academy Awards in the best supporting actor/actress categories.  They certainly earned them, although there are some who would begrudge Chakiris his because of other performances in his category that year. 

You and I both know that while winning an Oscar is certainly an achievement, it should never be the absolute judgment  on which film is better or which performance is more deserving than someone else’s.  Still, despite neither Beymer or Wood being nominated the film garnered a record (at that time) ten wins.  I think Chakiris deserved his.  He defines Bernardo as more than just a gang member.  He didn’t come to the mainland to declare war, he came for a better life, and instead was dealt a hand of discrimination and racism from which his anger and hatred grew:

“When I think of how I thought it would be for us here, we came like children, believing trustin…” he tells Anita.  Chakiris captures ever little bit of complexity and turmoil that seethes inside Bernardo. 

Anita, on the other hand, sees things differently.  She is passionate about everything, but is realistic enough to know that the present is wrought with danger.  She understands the passion between Tony and Maria, but as she says, “You’re out of your minds.”  Moreno's characterization of Anita is so powerful, that her performance overshadows those around her, which is why the contributions of Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood are often overlooked.

Beymer’s Tony has been often criticized as being too much of a goody two shoes.  Frankly I don’t see it.  What I do see is a man tired of fighting all his life.  He wants meaning and purpose in his life.  He is no longer a Jet because he chooses not to be.  And to make Tony as hard edge as his former gang members would have made him as unsympathetic as most of the Jets are portrayed here, with perhaps the exception of Riff.  In a way, we see a little bit of Tony that has rubbed off on Riff. 

He says he hates Bernardo and the Sharks, yet there are times when you can see that he respects him, such as when Lt. Shrank is brandishing his own personal racial prejudice as a weapon against the Sharks. And when Riff is forced into a one on one knife fight with Bernardo, the look on both men’s faces tells you it’s a fight neither really wanted.  Have Tony act as if he’s still a member of the Jets,  and the whole films falls apart.  Beymer gets it exactly right.

Strangely the same too good to be true criticism is often made of Natalie Wood’s Maria.  And that makes no sense at all.  She’s come to America as the others, to find a new life.  We see that she has been overprotected by her brother and the rest of her family, and thus  it would only be natural for Maria to see everything in a positive light.  She doesn’t understand the hatred between the Jet’s and the Sharks, but like Anita she knows that no good will come of it.  But she blames both sides. 

To Maria, her brother Bernardo and the sharks is just as wrong headed as Riff and the Jets.  In every scene she is in, Natalie Wood is simply beautiful, and stunning.  Yet, it is always she that  bears the brunt of some of the unwarranted and petty criticisms of this film.  Silly criticisms such as she didn’t sing her own vocals.  Uh…hardly anybody in this film did.  But she did sing them during the filming and Marni Nixon’s voice was dubbed in later.  So it is 100 per cent Wood’s performance on the screen, not Ms. Nixon’s and the criticism is just plain stupid.  If Moreno is the fire of West Side Story, Wood is the grace, beauty and charm in an unforgettable role.

The presentation at the Tulare was for the most part, terrific.  However, what we saw is the same as on on the recently released blu-ray release and the film had the same flaw that a lot of consumers are bitching about.  There is a big screw up in the opening title sequence, near the end when the film fades to black and then fades back in when it is not suppose to.  Those who know the film as well as I do know what I’m talking about.  The rest of you probably won’t care.  But on the very large Tulare screen it was a rather glaring noticeable error and drew me out of the film but only momentarily.  Other than that, it was simply super.

Whether the blu-ray will have the same effect on a smaller screen I don’t know.  Word is that eventually there will be a replacement disc offered for those who are irritated by this unnecessary glitch.  Here are my feelings:  It’s a crap shoot.  Whether a new disc will eventually be offered for retail sale is iffy.  Everything else about the film looks great, unless you’re one of the extreme nitpicking technophiles who wring their hands over every single pixel.  Sometimes after wading through their slog, I’m not sure there’s any release they will find exactly to their liking.

I recommend you get the film, and if a replacement disc is offered up, then send for it.  The error in the title sequence has no bearing at all on the rest of the movie, and if the blu-ray is as stunning as the theater presentation, both visually and sound wise, then you’re in for a first class experience. 

Make no mistake about it. West Side Story is an outstanding achievement and ranks high on my list of great films of all time.  And you know is well as I do that a film that does that leaves me no choice but to bestow a grade in the rarified air of A+.  My only regret?  It’s that I’ll never get to experience the film again as I did one evening in November of the year 2011.

Edit 3/24/2013  Since writing this, the Collector’s edition is still available, but at half the price I paid for it.  Whether the title error was fixed to people’s satisfaction is debatable.  I still highly recommend it.  You probably won’t see another edition for a while.  You can also buy just the movie on Blu-ray at a continuing fluctuating price.